tv Dan O Neill The Firecracker Boys CSPAN July 21, 2018 10:34pm-11:07pm EDT
alaska's natural beauty. we will delve into literary culture. >> in 1950 eight, edward teller, creator of the h-bomb, came to alaska with plans to detonate six nuclear bombs off the alaskan coast. next, dan o'neill, author of quote the firecracker boys," the plan and those who stopped it. 1958, edward teller, the so-called father of the h-bomb came to alaska unannounced and unveiled his plan to create an instant harbor on the coast of alaska by bearing and detonating multiple thermonuclear bombs. they would blow up this gigantic crater one-mile long. all this dirt would be ejected
as high as the stratosphere. d.c. would rush in and you would have this instant harbor. it might glow-in-the-dark they you would have a harbor. thecommission was part of government, and agency of almost unlimited power. unlimited funding. guys told me, we did not consider. we did not have to answer trendy but at the president. not congress, not anybody. they had never been thwarted and anything they would want to do. it was a little village of eskimo people who gave them defeat.rst literally, these are atomics i test came to alaska with nuclear bombs in their back pocket and they were faced down with guys with harpoons. teller was a brilliant physicist and came out of hungry and had
fled the not season and had come the nazis.fled the ball mad with rush of my and nagasaki. teller was a bit of a renegade. in fact he was ready much unmanageable at the manhattan project. he had to be turned loose from the team effort to build the first fission bomb and allowed to work on his own project, he was very interested in need thermonuclear bomb, the fusion bomb. he ultimately was not very cooperative but he was such a powerful force and powerful physicist that they set them up
in his own laboratory essentially out in livermore and los alamos continued to develop both the fish and then the fusion bombs. -- fission and the fusion bombs. one in mexico but nobody knew what it was and then there were two bombs dropped in japan which began the war. there is a lot of sentiment hail the advent of the atomic age as a very positive thing, for one thing maybe as some of the political , war would become obsolete because these weapons were too powerful. nobody would dare use them. of course, we just had. so there was a great euphoria actually about this time overall things atomic, to the point where atomic physicists were look to as an lightened people
managing our education system and other things about they which knew nothing. you might've seen the pictures of the atomic cafe and the atomic cocktail and sputnik, when sputnik went around the world. the satellites in that whole toe of looking toward space the atomic future. soonricity was said to be to be too cheap to meter. it would all be free. there would be nuclear airplanes and aclear powered ships ushered in.uld be nobody was paying much attention to the really devastating contamination that comes from the whole nuclear process from mining uranium all the way to any kind of explosion are power generation in a nuclear power
plant. we of toxic waste that will outlast civilizations that needs to be managed beyond the lifespan of civilizations. so that was all happening. that was part of the culture push for this sort of thing but then emerging in the late 1950's, people began to associate fallout from certainric testing with human problems, disease problems. testproposed nuclear ban treaties for the world. that would've shut down the opportunity for guys like teller to test nuclear weapons, at least in the open-air but if he could convince people that a peaceful use of nuclear weapons was a positive thing, had relatively good public support, these full the name "
use" he could continue to test, what could bee, used as nuclear weapons. it is likely they came to alaska for a couple reasons. they wanted it to be remote. touching off a nuclear bomb, things get shook, there is radiation released, there is a seismic effect. there's also a shockwave up of around the will knock things over. went wrong, you wanted as few people around us possible. it is also possible they may they felt like alaska could not mount much of a protest. that would've been amplified in the village of eskimo people who were nonwhite, not proficient in the english language, if you and area ofand every
political influence they were low so i think that is what was lost on these guys. the atomic energy commission asked the survey to look around. where would be a good place, relatively remote or actually remote -- quite remote. with the geology might sustain such an excavation and there goody is not very many sites in arctic alaska to support harbor. the sea is very shallow for the most part. gnome is a very good-sized town. it has no harbor. they would of liked to put near gnome but it did not work out. they ended up in a place called block thompson and a creek.
they said there were a fish stocks that could be exploited that no server for a safe haven for fishermen and also there were natural resources like coal they could be exported if there were a harbor but the reality was that that harbor would've been frozen solid for nine-month of the year. there really were no fish stock in that area though were commercially exploitable. the were going to place bombs in the creek at basically the mouth of the creek in the stream and blow up this big channel that would have initially 2.4 megatons of energy. the equivalent of 2.4 million tons of tnt. i calculated once if you loaded all of that tnt on to one ton flatbed trucks in a convoy bumper-to-bumper, it would stretch from fairbanks, alaska, to southern argentina.
bumper-to-bumper. something like 30% of all of the firepower expended in world war ii touched off in a single instant. be, i think there were four little bombs at for her russia most each. hiroshimaslittle each. and two big ones. this would undoubtedly mean that the eskimo people, for a big radius around there, certainly tens of miles, scores of miles, would never go back. wherever the wind happened to be blowing today would've been manyd with contamination
many times greater than chernobyl, the world's greatest nuclear accident. the place they picked had a couple little huts that were occupied seasonally why eskimo people who were local whom i travel in that direction caribou hunting. the bluffs themselves were utilized to collect seabird eggs . the people lived a subsistence life and gathered eggs and fish and of course they are most famous for hunting sea mammals, wales, walrus, beluga, and caribou in the hills. nobody was a permanent resident there but the nearest village was a town called point hope. the name the people cause that means index finger. it is on the spent of land that points back toward asia, with
people came from. their villages that the tip of that. that the tipage is of that. it is the oldest continually occupied place and north america. it was established because of its position relative to the migration of bullhead wales. catching a bullhead will consist in a village for quite a while. thousands of pounds of meat they could store an underground cellars frozen. word went out at there were surveyors at the creek wondering what they were doing. word filtered back from fairbanks and anchorage where teller and his entourage explained the project. it filtered back to the people who would've been most affect did buy it, the native people point hope. when they learned about it there and mediate reaction was
resistance and they demanded a delegation come talk to them. that happened in march of 1960. half a dozen or so men from the atomic energy commission and some scientists they recruited went up there to explain the project to the eskimo people. they were not pleased. they said, we don't want it. and when we say it we mean it. and a little woman, four foot said we areup and pretty sure you don't want to bomb your place where you live. just gave them hell. they said they wanted one of the commissioners to come up. the asc five commissioners. they said, we want one of those
guys to come up. that happened. they went up there. the people were very smart and they tape-recorded everything which was very i'm usual and very shocking to these guys when they came to the suits and went up to the head table, to tape recorders were running. basically, the atomic energy commission people lied to the people of point hope about the effects of nuclear weapons testing in the pacific and its effect on food, it animals, people. it is on tape. better.w you can go to atomic energy publications of that day and see they knew better when they told the eskimo people otherwise. they painted a very benign picture as to the effect on human health and food animals. they had their own sources of
information, they read life magazine which had covered the bravo test in the pacific, the fallout of which ended up on a japanese fishing trawler and people died from that exposure. some of them served in the military. one was even a member of the cleanup crew at nagasaki. ofy were not without sources information, so they challenged what they were hearing and later got more information and ended up writing a letter to president kennedy and writing letters to the atomic energy commission and the secretary of interior and they told the secretary interior, we claimed this land whour land anti-e.u. ininister -- and you hold it trust for us until it is at you dictated and you cannot give it
until itnnot give it is adjudicated. i think the atomic energy commission, i think they were one of the very early professional practitioners of public relations. they really understood how to into the conversation widely in the public. they had speakers bureaus. children,agazines for they had people go to schools. they had professional pr people on staff. they made films, commercials. you can see some of them on archives today. the sunny side of the atom. our friend the act him. the atom.
little cartoons of the atom. they had people they called the opinion shapers. they worked over the oppressed. the press was very taken with the argument of the atomic scientists so that all of the major newspapers in the state for they gung ho project. the presidents and the regents of the state university was ford and essentially the state -- not essentially, literally, he told his professors if the united states government says it is safe that is all we need to hear. which is antithetical to the notion of what sciences and what he university is. nevertheless, he was a big booster. it meant federal dollars coming into the state and to his
university. that meant growth, development. and in this city and this state, development is the byword. if we can get federal dollars to build and grow, it is a sin to oppose it. the state of alaska broadly endorsed the project. the universityat and the controversy and the conservationists ratcheted up their opposition. one of the outcomes was that tellers group did find -- find a series of studies. scientistsacate the at usa. maybe because they thought they were important. it is not completely clear but what is clear is that they put together the mother comprehensive array of environmental studies priority to the project that had ever ever,one, i think
anywhere. so essentially they configure the modern and environmental impact report, which would not be required until after the environmental protection act of 1970 and this was in the 1950's. so this is another thing that came out of it that was very historic. it meant you were going to understand the effect of what you are going to do before you did it. that was a milestone and policy. geology,dies included hydrology, soil, they had bird studies, mammal studies, fish, .eather, studies of all kinds studies to include as they human use of that area by the native people and their subsistence lifestyle. there were 42 different studies. the book that resulted is this
bank. what they started to show -- this book. what they started to show coming out of fairbanks here was that around the world there had been problems with radiation moving up through the food chain to man. states whenower fallout say from an atmospheric testing nevada somewhere where plantsed with dust onto like grass and cows would eat the grass, pretty soon it is an their body and milk, it's metabolized like nutrients. one is an analog of calcium and ken and a in your bones. others can end up in your muscles. the tissues of these animals was becoming radioactive. so was there milk.
so was people. whateverwer latitudes, is in the grass is now in the soil and then the new plants radiotake some of those nuclei set thinking near nutrients but they tended to discriminate against them somewhat. in alaska we did not have grassland, we had tundra. -- tundrants contain plants contain a lot of what is called like an. lichen. mineral nutrition from airborne dust. it is designed to capture any particles coming down and incorporated into its tissues. it did not die off every year.
it could live 70 years. some animale and he is lichen grazing notches this sure, the previous share, going back decades, concentrating that into his body. then you had the eskimo who used to i think on the order of eating seven caribou per year. so you are concentrating those radio nuclei even further. the radiation could go in bigger quantity faster into people. they figure this out by looking at studies on in canada and in scandinavia countries. noise about to make this. that changed a lot of the momentum of the project.
even though the aec had carefully not designed studies notest that here, i think accidentally either, but these guys are aware of the literature from abroad showing these problematic food webs. up a started to back little bit. simultaneously, the eskimo protester was getting national play. the new york times was on it, time magazine, the conservation movement had a whole issue on it. three or four or five or six magazines were talking about. now it is starting to be in public relations terms, costly for daca to press with this. they probably could've done it because they've done everything one did to do before but i think
it became too costly of a pr problem for them to continue to timeit and at the same there were developments happening. this is getting delay year after year now because of these protests in the length of the studies. they are during more testing in nevada and they are ruining some things the chariot explosion would have taught them. so there is less need for. they also declared is not necessary anymore. we're going to hold it in obeisance.- you can see when you get the decideds that they had
-- they had their test site in nevada. nobody breaking down their neck like alaska. they shot up for 100 kiloton explosion there which made it big enough you could easily float an aircraft in it. i've been to the edge of the. i looked at it, it's massive. cause the people in st. george, utah, to have to turn on their streetlights at midday. all of that radioactive dust int all the way into canada violation of the atmosphere test entry. that shot, they released a press release saying it answered the questions chariot was going to give us and we don't need chariot. this press release was written before the version, you know. they were clearly trying to withdraw from project chariot save as much faces
they could. they never use the word cancel. 50 years later, to this day, they have never said it was canceled. edward teller went on to become arguably the most influential scientist in america in the 20th century. ofwas an ardent opponent what ever test ban treaty might be put forward. any sort of arms control. andas an ardent hock whenever we had a republican administration, his stock rose and he became counselor to every republican resident. when we got it democrat, he received his laboratory and the hoover institute at stanford. he went into the george w. bush
era. i think he got the presidential medal of freedom from george w bush. he was a renowned, respected, and listen to elder in the scientific and in the nuclear arms community. interestingly, he came back to 1980's.n the late it was fun ronald reagan was pushing star wars. which was a space-based missile defense system using lasers. something concocted on the back of an envelope practically. $100 billion later, no system such exists and the one they have is funny but that is another story. tell her thought, why not base some of these laser -- tell her -- teller thought,
why not base some of these on the north base of alaska between russia and the u.s., high up in the arctic and also it is not a warm place the generates a lot of cloud cover see you have a lot of clear days there. so for a number of sensible reasons he thought that would be to base it. so he came back to less to visit the north slope and check it out. i was doing my work on project chariot then. i thought, here he comes back again with the defense related project to protect america if the lascaux will go along. it had a lot of similarities. some of their devices involved nuclear explosions in space,
too. similaritieslot of to the project charity case of decades earlier. i was able to interview him. i went down to anchorage with the film crew. we got 8.5 minutes into the "can wew before he said ?"ke a break and he exploded, cursing and yelling at me like his own nuclear blast. cursing me that i would ask him questions about project charity. which were perfectly appropriate. perfect journalistic questions except nobody really ever did that to him. he held her he had a perfect interview this morning where the reporter let him talk about anything he wanted. plenty ofat we got
apple what we don't have is putting his feet to the fire on project chariot a little bit. so he thrusts out. just before the door slammed i heard him tearing up his release and that recording is in the archives although it cannot really be used without his permission, which he never gave. his answer.tion was that there was no good answer from him about project chariot. that was problematic. it did not make sense. it had enormous potential to pollute. it was not proposed for the reasons they gave. the whole thing was nonsense from start to finish. he did not have a good response. i believe that is why he did what he did. fairness, teller was undoubtedly a patriot and very high if not for most in his list
of motivations is to protect america. i think he gave way to many lesser motives as well he was doing what he thought was right and his problem was he thought it was better to keep the public unaware of what he was doing for the good of the country a c sought. in so doing, he served the basic prerogatives of a democracy. that is not how it works. you don't get to decide what is best for us. we get to decide. even if we are imperfect. not --not see our we do e. do not ced that is part of the bargain of democracy. you have to pay enough attention
to stand up and fight. you have to argue. a free society has a skeptical one. that is a way pre-protect our freedoms. -- we protect our freedoms. of our year-long 50 capitals tour, the c-span bus recently made the long journey to juneau, alaska, capital of the 49th state. this weekend we will feature our stops across alaska, showing you the states natural beauty. we will delve into alaska's unique history and literary culture. fairbanks, alaska, is located 196 miles north of the arctic circle. while in fairbanks, we delivered lookout- we visited a and estate recreation area.